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The Impact of Music Education*

Individual Level Impact and Outcomes of Music Education

It has often been suggested that musical learning can positively generate learning in other domains (Overy, 2012). When considering the outcomes of arts education the literature predominately falls within two paradigms:  the outcome of art education in terms or non & art related outcomes and that specific to the art discipline (Bolstad, 2010). With regards to non &discipline specific outcomes, multiple studies highlight a relationship between music learning and development across several domains including language and literacy, spatial temporal reasoning, achievement in maths, general intelligence and social&emotional competencies.  (Forgeard, Winner, Norton, Schlaug, 2008; Overy, 2012). However, empirical studies have generated conflicted findings.

The arts education body of literature includes quantitative studies which utilise secondary data to glean associations between music education and related outcomes; quantitative studies which adopt an experimental or quasi experimental approach (mostly using control groups); or qualitative studies that focus on the in&depth impact for children and students (using mostly interviews and focus groups with tutors, teachers, facilitators and students/participants).  The majority of empirical work warns agains claiming causation (in which music education has direct causal effects in other domains at an individual level), however, recognising “that music
learning and teaching can interact with learning and teaching in other domains,” a two way interaction model (Bolstad, 2010, p.21).

In understanding the development of skills, abilities and attributes in other domains, it is recognised that a number of other variables may contribute to this development (Bolstad, 2010).The following section explores extant studies and scholarly work which investigate the impact of music education for children at an individual level.

Transference to other domains

The basis for understanding the transfer of learning from music education into other facets of child development has been explored in neuroscience literature, which suggests that extensive and active engagement with music can induce cortical reorganisation and generate functional changes in the way in which the brain processes information (Hallam, 2010).

Research on western classical adult musicians suggests that sustained and active musical engagement can increase neuronal representation (Hallem, 2010; Moreno, Friesen, Bialystok, 2011). Furthermore, structural differences in the brain have been found in studies which compare adult musicians with non&musicians, particularly for music & related regions of the brain such as sensorimotor, auditory, and multi modal integration areas (Hyde, Lerch, Norton, Forgeard, Winner, Evans, Schlaug, 2009).  Overy (2012) stated that “expert instrumental training has now been directly and substantially correlated with neural differences” (p.66).

Until recently it was unclear whether structural changes in the brain were a causal product of long&term musical engagement or the product of pre & existing differences (the nature vs. nurture argument). Hyde et al. (2009) sought to address this question through investigating the impact of 15 months musical training on children. This study utilised deformation & based morphemetry to measure brain changes longitudinally and found that children with 15 months of keyboard training showed significant structural brain changes when compared to control groups. Recently, Schellenberg and Winner (2011) stated that we “can infer a causal link from music training to brain growth with some confidence” (p. 129).

When considering how musical learning can transfer into non & music related domains, literature suggests that the cognitive processes and Evaluation of Sistema Aotearoa neural network normally associated with music making are shared with other mental activities (Moreno, Bialystok, Barac, Schellenberg, Cepeda, & Chau, 2011) and thus the process of learning music may ‘transfer’ to learning in non&music domains. There is a “widespread view that learning to play a musical instrument in childhood stimulates cognitive development and leads to enhanced skills in a wide variety of areas” (Forgeard, Winner, Norton, Schlaug , 2008 , p.1), a phenomenon referred to as ‘transfer’.

The likelihood of transfer is related to how closely the initial activity (in this case musical education or music making) is related to the transfer domain. ‘Near transfer’ occurs in cases where musical learning closely resembles the transfer domain and is widely evidenced in literature, particularly the impact of learning music on fine motor skills, melody andrhythmic discrimination. ‘Far transfer’ refers to the impact of musical
learning on non&musical domains, including areas of spatial, verbal, mathematical and general cognitive/ intelligence. Compared to near transfer, far transfer has been recognised to be “notoriously difficult to demonstrate” (Forgeard, Winner, Norton, Schlaug, 2008, p. 1) and extant studies which measure far transfers have generated divergent findings.
The Hyde et al. (2009) study mentioned above found that “structural brain changes in motor and auditory areas...were correlated with behavioural improvement on motor and auditory&musical tests... the first longitudinal investigation to directly correlate brain structure and behavioural changes over time in the developing brain” (Hyde et al.,2009, p. 3022). Behavioural improvement in this study, however, referred
to near transfer and the authors found less evidence of far transfer.

The way in which transfer is measured has been widely critiqued,particularly the dominance of correlational studies and their inability to explore causation with confidence. Nonetheless the existence of physical changes in the brain correlated with musical education suggests there are wider beneficial associations, and as direct linear causation is notoriously difficult to prove, with countless contextual, confounding and extraneous variables to account for, strong correlations are important in improving understanding and practices.

A number of experimental and correlational studies have explored the interrelationship between learning music and language skills. Listening to music is argued to provide effective experiences for children to hone their listening skills, exemplified by the ‘Mozart effect’. It is proposed that language and music share relevant neural processing mechanisms, utilise similar regions of the brain (Moreno et al., 2011a; Moreno et al., 2011b) and during the early developmental years children may actually mentallyprocess language as a type of music (Degé & Schwarzer, 2011). For example during early years of childhood development the mind must begin to distinguish variation within a category, relating phonemes (the building block of language) to  pitch and notes (the building blocks ofmusic). Recent empirical work provides evidence that musical training
may lead to superior encoding of linguistic sound, pitch patterns and verbal memory, during these early years of development (Hille, Gust, Bitz& Krammer, 2011; Hallam, 2010).

Gromko (2005) found that kindergarten aged children who participated in music over four months had higher phonemic awareness (“the ability to recognise that a spoken word consists of individual sounds or phonemes”, p. 199). This is supported by a study of 41 kindergarten children in Germany, which found that a musical group who received 20 weeks of musical training performed higher than the control group on phonological awareness (Degé & Schwarzer, 2011). A study of the effects of musical training on children aged five to seven found that compared to controls, children with musical training had improved auditory discrimination scores (Schlaug, Norton, Overy and Winner, 2005, cited in Hallam, 2010).

Hallam (2010) summarises this body of literature as providing evidence that music training has the capacity to improve children’s ability to code and identify speech sounds and patterns. The specific mechanisms underlying the link between music and language, however, remain underspecified (Moreno et al., 2010b).

Improved capacity in encoding and identifying speech sounds and patterns and the development of language related skills, is thought to contribute to the development of reading skills (Degé & Schwarzer, 2011; Moreno et al., 2011a). Phonological awareness, in particular, has been associated with reading ability for four to five year old children (Hallam, 2010). A meta & analysis of 24 studies found a reliable relationship between
musical instruction and reading (Butzlaff, 2000, cited in Hallam, 2010). 

Forgeard, Winner, Norton, and Schlaug (2008), for example, found that children who had at least three years of music training outperformed a control group on vocabulary (also on nonverbal reasoning skills). Hille, Gust, Bitz and Kammer (2011) found a correlation between spelling performance and boys who could play a musical instrument, and music training was found to transfer to verbal ability, generating enhanced performance on measures of vocabulary knowledge in a study conducted by Moreno et al. (2011b). Similarly, children aged four to six years old who engaged in four weeks of music training had a larger magnitude of improvement in their ability to map unfamiliar symbols to known wordsthan a visual&art training group (Moreno et al., 2011a). Conversely, a study of 8 & 10 year olds in the UK, found that a musical group interaction
programme did not significantly impact on verbal ability (Rabinowitch, Cross & Burnard, 2012).

It is also proposed that there is a strong relationship between mathematics and music, although research investigating the impact of music training on mathematical skills has produced mixed results. While some evidence suggests a correlation between music training and maths, the nature of this relationship, the type of music training involved and the length of time needed to foster positive maths&related outcomes is not well understood (Hallam, 2010). Southgate and Roscigno (2009) found that music involvement was associated with mathematics performance and reading ability for children in kindergarten, however other studieshave found little evidence of this effect.

A number of studies investigate the interrelationship of music training to intelligence and academic performance, many finding a positive association. Rickard, Appelman, James, Murphy, Gill and Bambrick (2012) stated that the majority of music & education outcome research has focused on gains in intelligence and academic performance.  In particular, multiple studies suggest a relationship between the development of spatio&
temporal reasoning and music education. A Meta&analysis of 188 studies identified three areas which were characterised by clear causal links (Winner & Hetland, 2000, cited in Bolstad, 2010) including listening to music and spatio&temporal reasoning and learning to play music and spatial reasoning. Music was also found to positively impact memory in a study of four to six year olds who undertook 75 minute music training per week over a 30 week period (Bilhartz, Bruhn & Olson, 2000, cited in Cuesta, 2011). Similarly, Hille, Gust, Bitz and Kammer (2011) provided evidence of higher non&verbal IQ scores for young German boys aged eight to nine who played instruments, compared to their non & musical counterparts.

Concerning academic achievement, a number of large scale correlational studies provide evidence of the impact of music education. Again, however, these studies could not find causality and control for a limited set of variables (such as gender and income but not the type of music education). In a study of 25,000 students Cattarall, Chapleau, Iwanaga (1999) found that arts&rich students outperformed arts&poor students on every measure of academic achievement (cited in Fix and Sivak, 2007).  Johnson and Memmott (2006, cited in Hallam, 2010) found an association between academic achievement and music training participation in 4739 elementary and middle school students in the United States. Schellenberg (2006) found a positive correlation between the duration of music lessons and school performance, verbal and non&verbal IQ tests. While there is a positive association between musical training and high cognitive ability, the nature and specificity of the link is not clearly understood (Hille, Gust,Bitz & Kammer, 2011). In reflecting on studies which explore this relationship, Schellenberg (2005) summarises: that “these correlationalfindings extend those of the experimental study by showing that real & world effects of musical training on intellectual abilities are:
a)  larger with longer periods of training,
b)  long lasting,
c)  not attributable to obvious confounding variables,
d)  distinct from those of non&musical out&of&school activities”.

The social and personal development outcomes of music training have received less academic attention than intellectual development and achievement (Rickard et al., 2012). Again, the social and personal development outcomes are deemed difficult to measure and tend to be studied through the use of interviews which provide self&reported, subjective and anecdotal evidence.

With regards to children, this evidence points to music training as a mechanism for improving self & image, self&awareness, self & control, developing positive self&attitudes (Rickard et al., 2012) and inducing feelings of confidence and motivation (Hallem, 2010). ‘While observations such as these provide a valuable indication of the potential for music training to foster social competence and self & esteem there is a lack of empirically based research supporting the benefits outlined, especially for social skills’ (Rickard et al., 2012, p.3). Schellenberg’s (2006) study of 147 children found no evidence of a correlation between musical training and social skills. In a study of adults, musical training was not associated with difference in emotional intelligence (Schellenberg & Winner, 2011).
Conversely, Rickard et al., (2012) cite two studies conducted in the 1990s which provide evidence of musical training and increased self&esteem for children. Rickard et al.’s (2012) study of 210 younger children and 149 older children from 10 schools in Victoria, Australia, found that while participation in a music programme yielded benefit for children’s self & esteem, the effect was modest and dissipated during tests conducted in the second year of study. In saying this, children who did not participate in the musical programme reported declining self & esteem (consistent with literature outlining declining self & esteem in the early years of primary
school); whereas the music programme appeared in this study to serve as a protection against this.

Research on the impact of music education for youth (as opposed to children) has generated similar discussions (although characterised by similar methodological limitations). This literature positions art & based education as a mechanism through which youth are engaged in sustained activity, linking music education literature to the burgeoning youth engagement literature. For example, the National Arts and Youth Demonstration Project conducted a three&year study on the impact of art education programmes in Canada. It was found that youth who participated in programmes “demonstrated an improvement in both social and technical skills, increased confidence, improved interpersonal skills, improved conflict resolution and problem&solving skills, and decreased level of conduct problems, emotional problems, anti & social behaviour” (Fixand Sivak, 2008, p. 147).

A number of authors examine the link between music education and sense of self. These studies hypothesise that musiccan effectively allow youth to explore their self&identity and creatively express themselves (Hollinger, 2006; Odena, 2010). Music has been highlighted as providing a mechanism through which music makers can process, adapt and analyse their feelings (van Niekerk and Salminen, 2008). Foxman (2008)
theorised that music can create social agency by allowing music makers to use their imagination and self&expression.

Participation in music education is also thought to create an intrinsic motivation through allowing students to experience success, develop pride in their own development and thus increase willingness & to & try and willingness & to & learn.  Kartomi (2008) found that participation in ensemble training allowed youth to achieve more than they thought possible thus increasing their own perceptions of competence leading to increased self & belief and confidence.

 Group and society level impacts of music education

Music education literature predominately focuses on individual impacts or outcomes. While a number of academic studies state that they investigate the impact of music education at a group or societal level, there is a tendency to discuss individual&level impacts aggregated to a studied group or community. “Although groups may be studied, within these groups the unit for measurement is still the individual, and there is a focus on identifying growth/change/impacts/outcomes at the level of individuals’ life trajectories” (Bolstad, 2010, p.42). This is particularly the case for social music&education programme evaluations, which explore impacts of programmes for individual constituents of targeted groups or the community.

Evaluating the community, social and/or economic impacts of music education are methodologically complex. It is recognised that there are empirical and methodological problems in aggregating individual outcomes up to a group or community level. “One of the more vexing issues confronting anyone wishing to understand the impact of the arts on communities is the question of how to link micro&level effects on individuals to the more macro level of the community (Guetzkow, 2002, cited in Bolstad, 2010, p. 43). It is also recognised that substantive community, social or economic impacts take considerable time to generate and often occur outside of the relatively short period of study.  Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of longitudinal studies that are able to capture long & term outcomes and, “[T]here is infrequent investment in the kinds of long&term research that many authors suggest is lacking” (Bolstad, 2010, p. 45). At best, a number of studies measure outputs that may in time produce or contribute to community, social or economic outcomes. This has resulted in a body of literature that while pointing to and discussing a number of potential community, social or economic impacts, fails to provide comprehensive empirical evidence.

A number of academic articles describe the ways in which music and music education can foster connection, bonds and social capital. Through engaging with other programme participants and tutors, music education is understood to allow the individual to connect to the group, generating a sense of identity and belonging (Hollinger, 2006).  An increased sense of belonging enables children to engage with the world around them and
connects the individual to their community (Foxman, 2008). Foxman (2008) theorised that community&based exchange (such as community performances) has the capacity to develop a shared consciousness and thus create community solidarity.

Odena (2010) explored the capacity of music education to create social cohesion, ameliorate children’s negative attitudes and foster positive intergroup relations between Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. Through 14 interviews with school & based staff, the author provided evidence for the ‘contact hypothesis’ which suggests that cross & community activities can be effective in creating cross & community bonds and reducing intergroup prejudice and hostility. A number of authors also posit that music education (and more broadly arts education) is capable of building social capital. Guetzkow (2002, cited in Bolstad2010) explained how community arts programmes (not specifically music) can generate social capital by fostering trust between participants. Their subsequent willingness to trust others and increased social networks served to create a sense of community pride and connection to the community.

Fix and Sivak (2008) described how the creation of intergroup relations, belonging, and social capital builds stronger communities. A case study of ‘The Big Noise’ in Scotland found evidence that the programme contributed to community cohesion and pride, with 88% of parents and carers stating that they believed the programme was “changing the way that people living in Raploch think about the area” (Scottish Government
Social Research, 2011, p.42). Jones (2010) also found evidence that individuals who participate in the arts (specifically musical choruses) have higher rates of community involvement.

“Cultural participation helps connect individuals to the social spaces occupied by others and encourages ‘buy in’ to institutional rules and shared norms of behaviour” (Kuly,Stewart, Dudley, 2005, cited in Fix and
Sivak, 2008, p. 147). It is on this basis that a number of authors describe the capacity of social music education programmes to address problem or illegal behaviour. A number of international reviews investigate the impact of music education for particular community groups including prisoners and youth offenders. For example, a study of a performing arts programme for offenders found that participation in the programme built participants’ confidence, positive self&attitudes and increased ability to work collaboratively. These factors in turn provided a pathway for longer term outcomes such as reduced rates of re & offending (Cox & Gelsthorpe, 2008, cited Bolstad, 2010). Similarly, a programme offering orchestral music to a low socio&economic area in South Africa found that participation in the programme corresponded with improved social behaviour and decreased engagement in problem or illegal activity (vanNiekerk &  Salminen, 2008). A network of music schools in economically disadvantaged areas of Medellin, also sought to counter gang recruitment by developing positive relations and a sense of community inclusion (Odena, 2010).

The degree to which music participation can address social inclusion and/or exclusion has also been studied. At this level, however, it is recognised that there is a “relative absence of systematic evaluations of impacts” (Jermyn, 2001, cited in Bolstad, 2010, pg. 42), and studies are vexed by difficulties in defining and measuring social inclusion and/or exclusion. In accordance with the notion that music is a form of cultural
praxis (not just a cultural artefact) the provision of equitable access to music education and equitable access to music making are in and of themselves indicators of social justice and human rights (Kartomi, 2008).

Economic Impacts of Music Education

Within regards to economic impact, studies tend to not evaluate the economic impact of music education, but rather explore how the creative sector (usually arts more broadly, rather than music specifically) can contribute to local, regional or national economic development. This repositions music as an economic activity or industry, whereby the outcomes are usually measured by direct economic benefits (employment, revenue and spending), indirect economic benefits (spill&over effects, related spending and multiplier effects) and sometimes through provision of ‘public&good’ benefits (non&financial benefits) (Bolstad, 2010). This approach is supported by evidence that business people believe there is a correlation between the arts and economic development whereby improving the vitality of the arts sector will improve regional economic performance by increasing creativity and innovation(Florida, 2002; Rossi, 2011).  Bolstad (2010) describes a number of models which investigate the interrelationships of the outcomes of arts (including both private and public benefit). These models, however, address the arts (not specifically music) and participation not specifically education.

In attempting to relate individual level outcomes to macro level outcomes, a number of individual and immediate benefits are highlighted that may in time contribute to broader economic outcomes. For example, “individual difference in verbal and spatial intelligence are strong predictors of achievement in school, the ability to learn in non & school settings, and a variety of other outcomes including productivity at work and health related behaviour’”(Moreno et al., 2011b). This is based on the notion of ‘life cycle links’, whereby there are relationships between the cognitive, social skills, nutrition and health status at a young age and future educational attainment, earnings and employment outcomes” (Cuesta, 2011, p. 18). Early childhood development literature often assesses the impact of participation in early child development programmes on subsequent variables such as employability or educational attainment.  However, this type of analysis is seldom performed for music education programmes.

One exception is the work of Cuesta, (2011) who calculated the social values of the El Sistema programme in Venezuela based on two unitary benefits: firstly, the impact of the programme on school dropout rates and secondly the impact of the programme on victimisation (theft and injury). Cuesta calculated that the social value of these two benefits to be worth $259 million (USD), while costing $154 million. As the study only aggregated the impact of two unitary benefits, excluding potentially other important social and economic impacts such as the impact of the programme on employability and productivity, it is likely that the total economic benefit to society of programmes such as these is far greater.


*Excerpts quoted from the Institute of Public Policy's Evaluation of Sistema Aotearoa: